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Physical play proves costly for Stars; Modano may be sidelined with injury

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- The Dallas Stars' strategy of becoming much more physical with the Buffalo Sabres came at a potentially huge price: The possible loss of leading scorer Mike Modano with a wrist injury.

Modano, a holdover from the Stars' 1991 Stanley Cup team and their top regular-season scorer, injured his left wrist during a third-period collision with defenseman Jay McKee in Dallas' 4-2 victory Thursday in Game 2.Stars coach Ken Hitchcock was vague Friday, saying only that Modano's wrist was "jammed" but refusing to say if the wrist was fractured. NHL spokesman Frank Brown said the Stars aren't required under league rules to disclose the exact nature of the injury.

NHL coaches traditionally are vague about injuries during the Stanley Cup playoffs because they fear opponents will gain a strategic advantage if they know in advance who will -- or won't -- play.

Modano is wearing a bowler's-like protective device on the wrist, but Hitchcock did not rule his first-line center out of Saturday night's Game 3 at Marine Midland Arena. But he also hinted strongly he won't play, and several Stars talked as if they don't expect Modano back soon.

"In the worst-case scenario, he's out seven to 10 days," Hitchcock said. "We'll see how it feels. It felt a lot better today than we all thought it would."

But, he cautioned, "Mike has to be 100 percent in his mind and his body to be playing. He's going to have to protect himself. He can't go out there and worry about Michael Pecas or Dixon Wards running after him."

Peca, the Sabres' center, warned that might happen should Modano play.

"If he is in the lineup, we're going to make it a point to be very physical with him and make it miserable for him," Peca said. "If a guy's got a broken wrist, you wouldn't wind up and take a two-hander but try to get in his way and bump him as much as you can. If there's a weakness you want to exploit that weakness."

If there's a weakness, Modano is hiding it. He entered the Stars' hotel in Great Valley, N.Y., near Buffalo on Friday afternoon wearing a sports jacket draped strategically across his left arm.

Should Modano make an unexpectedly fast recovery and the Sabres try to go after his injured wrist, Hitchcock said, "He's our best player. If they go after our best player, we'll go after their best, and that's Dominik Hasek."

The Stars already tried that with some success in Game 2, knocking the Buffalo goaltender down three times in the first period and frequently stationing a player in front of the net to screen him from shots.

Still, losing Modano, the center who anchors the Stars' top line of Brett Hull and Jere Lehtinen, would be a big blow to Dallas, especially with three of the next four games in Buffalo. The Sabres are 7-0 in the playoffs at home.

Modano assisted on both Stars' goals in Buffalo's 3-2 overtime victory in Game 1 and has five multiple-point games during Dallas' playoff run. He has five goals and 13 assists for 18 points, one fewer than Joe Nieuwendyk.

Modano was replaced on the top line Thursday by Tony Hrkac, who had missed 16 games with fractured ribs. Hrkac's pass set up Brett Hull's game-winning goal with 2:50 remaining.

"This team will not dwell on injuries," defenseman Craig Ludwig said. "We have a veteran team and we have depth. Somebody steps up. Look at Tony."

Dallas was 2-2 during Modano's four-game layoff in April with a strained groin.